Mike Muir has posted some good thoughts to his blog in “The Problems with Pilot Programs” that relate to the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) project’s initial evaluation by TCER and results from Maine’s longer-running 1:1 project (MLTI). I’ve been involved with TIP since it’s inception, and blogged fairly frequently about it and other 1:1 initiatives over the past several years as I’ve done related work leading up to my dissertation– which I hope to write in the coming year. Mike is right on with the following statement:

1to1 learning is an idea whose time has come. Computers are simply the modern tool for intellectual work and schools are where (ideally) we prepare students to do intellectual work.

I share Mike’s view that it would be good if Texas chose not to merely “pilot” laptops for students in a limited number of schools, but rather provide them for all students. The main problem, of course, is money. Currently it is viewed by most people as too expensive a proposition. Of course those assumptions include the idea that schools will spend the same amounts on textbooks, the same amounts on football programs and other athletics, etc. Where can the money come from? Most people think it has to come from outside sources like grants– yet Floydada ISD in West Texas (not a wealthy district by any measure, they have approx 86% of their students from low SES homes) has managed to immerse their high school with all local dollars.

But money is a key issue, and so is scale. Irving ISD, located in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, has been doing a laptop initiative for four years now, and has more laptops in the hands of students and teachers than the entire state of Maine. I agree that the time for 1:1 has come, and more schools need to move in this direction. I think, however, that the costs will need to reach closer to those promised by OLPC (now about $135 per laptop, from what I heard on recent TwIT and BBC Technology podcasts) before we’ll reach a tipping point for 1:1 implementations. I think we are getting close, but not there yet. The state of Indiana’s Linux laptop initiative for all high school students that David Thornburg talked about recently also promises to be significant in terms of demonstrating the financial viability of 1:1 projects. Whatever the costs, Texas is BIG, and has a lot of students needing a LOT of laptops. If Angus King had been our governor instead of George W. Bush, perhaps as a state we would have moved toward digital literacy and cultivation of higher order thinking skills…. Unfortunately he wasn’t, and Texas didn’t, and instead we’ve gotten a continuation of a poorly informed, politically motivated, and counterproductive focus on high stakes accountability that flogs teachers and kids instead of equipping them with the skills they’ll need in the future. But I digress a bit…..

Finances aside, Mike’s post strikes at the heart of the pedagogical reasons why school leaders should support laptop initiatives, and should support school curriculum reform agendas in general. (See “Oversimplifying TxTIP year 1 results” and “Clarifying Educational Ends” from January for more on this thread.) Mike correctly observes that laptop projects should not be supported with the primary goal of raising test scores:

One is that this type of research, for all intents and purposes, implies that the only reason to do a 1to1 initiative is to raise test scores. There are at least four compelling reasons to institute a learning with laptop initiative: the economy, equity, engagement, and digital emigration. Test scores can be useful indicator of some success, especially when it is only one of several indicators. But raising test scores should never be the purpose of education.

I agree with this view, yet in our present national K-12 educational environment it strikes me that this proposition is quite heretical. The assumption of many administrators I know these days (but there are exceptions) is that our very “reason for being” in the educational environment today is to raise test scores. Many if not most legislators also seem to ignorantly share this flawed perspective. In our heart of hearts as teachers, I think most if not all of us know this to be an evil lie. Of course we are teaching in schools and students are coming to school for far more than test scores. But the predominant legislative attitude and corresponding educational environment suggests that this lie is, in fact, true.

Education is such a complex enterprise. Sadly (in my view) I think some of the legislators who supported TxTIP did so in the hope that one day in the not too distant future, every student could have an Internet-connected laptop so their test scores could be sent at the speed of light to the state capitol for immediate analysis by technocrats. Vendors like Apple Computer very much have a heart for constructivist learning theory and students creating authentic knowledge products with digital tools, but I have a very strong sense that many of our legislators do not.

For proof, just look at all the guidelines for our federal eRate program in the U.S. that has been going on for almost 10 years. I attended a workshop on eRate this week in Oklahoma City, and later this weekend hope to post my notes and reactions– and maybe even do a podcast about this. For now, suffice it to say that the federal bureaucrats who wrote eRate and those in the FCC and USAC who are administering eRate are not interested in promoting higher level thinking skills via technology in schools. eRate is ostensibly concerned with bridging the digital divide– and it certainly has enabled many areas of the US to become wired where before they were not…. But when it comes to curriculum and pedagogy, all eRate is concerned about is the DELIVERY and DISTRIBUTION of information and content to students. That’s it. Period. No digital storytelling, no blogging or podcasting, no read/write web use, certainly no DSN– no original essay writing for heaven’s sake, no servers running any type of course management system– Moodle or otherwise, it’s enough to make an edublogger and teacher like me physically ill. :-( In the latest rulings, school calendars have even been judged to be “content” that is ineligible for eRate funding. We have sharply competing visions of education and literacy, and so far the reactionary, 18th century model is strongly prevailing from what I can see. Taking the long view, of course things will change, but in the short term, this can be pretty depressing…..

I fear I am rambling and maybe wandering off topic– but part of the way I use my blog is to clarify ideas, as well as analyze and reflect on those of others. Mike has shared (as usual) some great insights about education and 1:1 learning– but partly in defense of TxTIP, I wanted to observe that Texas ain’t Maine. (Those in Maine may be thinking, “Thank goodness!”) But I also want to point out that the issues here really go far beyond merely 1:1 learning. They concern the dominant paradigm we have for education in our society today in the early 21st century. What does it mean to be literate, and how can we best help both students and teachers to become literate according to that definition, with the tools now available to us in our digital economy?

I hope this rhetorical question will be answered, in the near term, by more states and localities making laptops the pencils of the 21st century classroom. In these discussions, however, we should remember that laptops are really not the “end” of these initiatives. Hopefully laptops will be used as one “means” toward accomplishing the larger goal toward which we all need to work, and that is sea change in our educational culture.

Check out Wesley's new ebook, "Mapping Media to the Common Core: Volume I." (2013) It's $15!

If you're trying to listen to a podcast episode and it's not working, check this status page. (Wes is migrating his podcasts to Amazon S3 for hosting.) Remember to follow Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also "like" Wesley's Facebook pages for "Speed of Creativity Learning" and his eBook, "Playing with Media." Don't miss Wesley's latest technology integration project, "Mapping Media to the Common Core / Curriculum."

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